By Kelly McCutchen
Georgia and the rest of the country are experiencing a significant demographic change: We’re seeing more grandparents and children, with fewer folks in between.
The Census Bureau projects that Georgia’s elderly population will nearly double between 2010 and 2030. Meanwhile, the number of children ages 5-17 is predicted to rise by 26 percent. This shift will place a serious strain on a decreasing percentage of working-age adults.
Georgia has one of the most generous retirement exclusions for income tax purposes in the nation ($130,000 per couple) and, in many counties, those over 65 are exempted from school taxes. So Georgia’s anticipated 1 million-plus increase of retirement-age residents will be particularly significant as state and local budgets struggle to provide quality health care services for the elderly and education for the young.
A report by Dr. Matt Ladner of the Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd) addresses this demographic shift and examines how well Georgia is prepared for the coming storm. The report, “At the Intersection of Education & Aging: Baby Boomer Retirement, Student Enrollment Growth and the Future of Georgia Education,” suggests how Georgia can prepare today’s students to become the innovative and skilled citizens needed to overcome the challenges of tomorrow.
Preparing students for college and careers: Georgia and the rest of the world face the challenge of developing a modern workforce equipped to excel in 21st-century jobs. How well our schools prepare today’s students for the challenges ahead will determine Georgia’s fate.
Knowing that many young Georgians lack crucial skills, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal created the High Demand Career Initiative (HDCI). State partners involved in training Georgia’s future workforce – primarily universities and technical colleges – hear directly from the private sector about degrees, certificates and skillsets needed for future jobs.
Expanding on this, ExcelinEd’s report suggests awarding school bonuses for high school students earning college credit by exam and/or high-demand professional certifications. Florida has used this strategy successfully; Georgia could also greatly benefit.
For example, Florida ranked second in the nation on the overall increase in Advanced Placement passing rates between 2003 and 2013. And while passing is important, even students who take but fail AP exams show more persistence in college. In 2013, Georgia students took 523 AP exams per 1,000 junior and senior students, while Florida rate was 712.
Improving public schools: Governor Deal’s Education Reform Commission reinforces Georgia’s quest for bold and innovative ways to prepare students. Earlier this year, the group urged legislators to equitably fund charter schools, a desperately needed move; such facilities currently are excluded from most government capital funding programs.
In that vein, ExcelinEd’s report recommends ways to turn around underperforming public schools through the creation of an Opportunity School District, reach more students with high-quality charter school options, and enhance academic achievement for students. Policies sparked by the Commission could be the beginning of the strategic change that will protect Georgia from the coming demographic “storm.”
Offering Education Savings Accounts: Currently, just one in three of Georgia’s special education students graduates from high school. ExcelinEd’s report suggests Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) can address this troubling issue, offering Georgia parents the opportunity to select the best education for their child.
ESAs place the state dollars designated for a child’s education into a special account that parents can use to cover the cost of customized learning. This allows parents to find the right courses, schools, programs and services to meet their child’s unique learning needs.
In the coming years, Georgia will face a historic challenge. If policy-makers act now with innovative and visionary change, we can equip all students with a high-quality education at a price taxpayers can afford.
To view streaming online video of the March 2016 Leadership Breakfast with Dr. Matt Ladner, go to https://youtu.be/IqlkG0sieLk.
Kelly McCutchen is President of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, an independent think tank that proposes market-oriented approaches to public policy to improve the lives of Georgians. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the view of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation or as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before the U.S. Congress or the Georgia Legislature.
© Georgia Public Policy Foundation (April 8, 2016). Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and his affiliations are cited.